Campus & Community

Stevens Announces Competition House for Solar Decathlon 2015

On October 29, 2012, the entire eastern seaboard of the United States felt the impact of Hurricane Sandy, but none more so than the New Jersey coastline, which took a direct a hit from the superstorm. Hurricane Sandy served as a wake-up call for the public, government leaders and policy makers about the devastating consequences of failing to prepare for the challenges of climate change. 

For Stevens Institute of Technology, which has called Hoboken home since 1870, Sandy was personal. The city of Hoboken was paralyzed in the days and weeks following the storm, creating a state of emergency that was unprecedented. But at Stevens, Sandy served as a driving force in bringing together our best minds in pursuit of innovative solutions for a sustainable future.

Since Sandy, Stevens’ faculty and researchers have been working on dozens of projects to help predict and mitigate storm damage, but one major opportunity presented itself when Stevens was selected to compete in its third consecutive Solar Decathlon, a biannual competition hosted by the U.S. Department of Energy to design, build and operate the most energy-efficient solar home within budgetary and building limits.

Solar Decathlon 2015

Bearing the effects of Hurricane Sandy in mind, the Stevens student team, supported by faculty advisors, will design and build the SURE HOUSE—a sustainable, resilient home for coastal communities—as their entry for the Solar Decathlon 2015. The design, construction and testing of this net-zero, solar-powered home will take place on the Stevens campus over the next year and a half. The house will ultimately be disassembled, transported to the competition site in Irvine, California, reassembled and exhibited by the Stevens student team for the duration of the Solar Decathlon exposition in Fall 2015.

The SURE HOUSE project will form the core of a broader research and development enterprise at Stevens in partnership with major stakeholders in the New York Metropolitan region to address the creation of resilient urban coastal communities. As a research university focused on advanced solutions to 21st century problems, John Nastasi, lead faculty for the Solar Decathlon project and director of Stevens' Product-Architecture & Engineering program, said it was important that Stevens step in to “play a critical public role in the discovery of new solutions to sustainability and resiliency.”

Hurricane Sandy underscored the critical market need for homes that can withstand the impact of extreme weather events in vulnerable areas along the East Coast, especially in the New York/New Jersey region. Designed to meet the needs of the middle and working class residents who live in the areas of coastal New Jersey and New York, the SURE HOUSE design takes into account the new flood maps issued by FEMA in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, as well as the economic feasibility of innovative approaches to building in these neighborhoods.

Past Solar Decathlons

Stevens’ participation in Solar Decathlon 2015 follows the university’s impressive performance in the competition in 2011 and 2013. Working in partnership with Parsons The New School for Design in New York City, Stevens’ 2011 entry—Empowerhouse—won awards for affordability and hot water, and eventually became the home to a working mother of three in an inner-city neighborhood in Washington, D.C. through a partnership between Stevens, The New School and Habitat for Humanity of Washington D.C.

In 2013, the Stevens team exhibited the Ecohabit house in the Solar Decathlon, placing second in the nation and fourth globally. Ecohabit also took second place in the Architecture contest. Stevens donated Ecohabit to California State University San Marcos (CSUSM) for use as a Veterans Center on the CSUSM campus, which serves nearly 900 student veterans.

Designed for Success

Given Stevens’ educational focus on technological innovation and its Strategic Plan motto of “Through Collaboration, Impact,” it is no wonder that Stevens is making its third straight appearance at the Solar Decathlon. Stevens’ faculty and students have been at the forefront of cutting-edge design as it relates to green technology. Sustainability is a core mission of Stevens’ educational programs, which is reflected in its many academic offerings including:

  • the option of a Green Engineering Minor to any of its engineering undergraduates;
  • a graduate Certificate in Sustainable Engineering; and
  • the graduate Product-Architecture & Engineering Program, which bridges the worlds of the architect and the engineer, and places strong emphasis on sustainability in design.

The research enterprise at Stevens as it pertains to energy sustainability and innovative coastal protection technologies is also impressive. In collaboration with the City of Hoboken, Stevens’ energy research includes a focus on the relationship between smart grids and smart cities. Additionally, the Davidson Laboratory and the Coastal Engineering Research Laboratory (CERL) are internationally recognized for their transformational research on coastal hazard mitigation and enhancement of coastal community resilience. 

Participation in the prestigious Solar Decathlon competition is a privilege and honor. Stevens is one of only 20 schools selected to compete. What makes the Solar Decathlon such an impactful competition is that it combines creativity with science and technology education. According to Richard King, creator and director of the Solar Decathlon, solar decathletes are not just debating how to build a better world, they are showing how to do it. “The quickest way to a better future is to design a cleaner, more sustainable way to live and then to demonstrate it,” said King.

If Stevens’ past performance is an indicator, the 2015 competition house should prove to be a tremendous, cross-disciplinary effort that will inspire efficient and affordable solutions to live more sustainably.

“This house will be the culmination of over six years of intense design research at Stevens,” said Nastasi. “We look forward to showcasing the methods and systems being developed for the SURE HOUSE.”

To learn more about the SURE HOUSE and to follow its progress, please visit